- - Thursday, March 3, 2022

Although the international protests condemning the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine are not a direct threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin, there is one group of demonstrators he will not be able to ignore, and those are his fellow Russians who have the power to overthrow him. Now they just need the will to do so.

The Russian people now have a choice: remain under the yoke of a ruthless dictator who masquerades as a legitimately elected president, or risk their lives to save their country from the evil of a tyrant whose exit was due in 1991, when the Soviet Union burned into the ashes of history. The time to act is now and the world can wait no longer.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny has heralded his fellow Russians to stage nationwide protests against the invasion of Ukraine, to show the world that not all Russians support Mr. Putin. His call echoes the earlier pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who also called upon his countrymen to take charge of their destiny before the invasion began.

“Let’s at least not become a nation of frightened silent people. Of cowards who pretend not to notice the aggressive war against Ukraine unleashed by our obviously insane tsar,” Mr. Navalny said. “I call on everyone to come out and on to the streets and fight for peace … Putin is not Russia.”

Mr. Navalny could not be more right, and the Russian people should take his cue as a signal, not only to stop Mr. Putin’s actions in Ukraine but also to expel him and his oppressive United Russia regime from office once and for all. The consequences of not doing so are significant for Russia.

Even a near-century after Germany tainted its own history with the unforgettable war crimes of the Holocaust, it continues to fiercely cling to its freedom fighters such as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg of Operation Valkyrie and Sophie Scholl of the White Rose resistance. Without heroes like von Stauffenberg and Scholl, Germany would have had little hope of redemption.

Von Stauffenberg, a decorated military officer, tried to kill Adolf Hitler and nearly succeeded. Scholl, a 21-year-old college student at the University of Munich rallied her peers to hand out leaflets defending the Jews, setting an example for youth not to blindly follow the German fuhrer. Their contributions and many others gave people hope then and impact Germany’s historical legacy now.

Many Russian citizens agree with Mr. Navalny, as evidenced by the thousands of demonstrators who have begun pouring out to the streets of Moscow to protest Mr. Putin’s unilateral war effort. Russian oligarchs are also beginning to turn on Mr. Putin, and news reports suggest that some Russian soldiers are resigning, sabotaging or slowing down their own mission in defiance of orders.

These Russians are heroes. They care about humanity and want to preserve life, and their brave actions could one day help vindicate the Russian nation and people in the pages of history. As Ukrainians continue to struggle to save themselves and their country, those Russians with a conscience and moral courage now have a chance to save them — and themselves.

Mr. Putin has proven he is not a leader. He is an executioner and issues death warrants for innocent civilians. If he remains in power he will continue to take Russia down the same road to hell that Hitler took Germany in the Second World War, leaving it permanently scarred and left in the position of forever making apologies and amends.

To date, Russia’s significant cultural contributions have managed to survive and, at times, even overshadow the crimes of the Soviet Union, but that is about to change. There is a difference between reading about what happened across the world during the Cold War and watching innocent people get massacred minute by minute on video. The world will never be able to forget this massacre nor should it.

As a former KBG colonel, Mr. Putin is undoubtedly taking security precautions to ensure he will not be removed from power. But like any tyrant, he is most certainly surrounded by others who have any number of reasons for wanting to remove him.

People of Russia: Whether you are demonstrating on the streets or are a trusted adviser or officer in Mr. Putin’s inner circle, now is the time to make your move and remove this war criminal from power. Save the people of Ukraine, save the world from war, and save your country before it is too late.

The world will stand with you — and a free Russia awaits you.

• Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is the former director of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the assistant commentary editor for The Washington Times. 

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